Marine general nominated as chairman of Joint Chiefs

Pace would be 1st Marine to hold top military post

April 23, 2005|By William Wan | William Wan,SUN STAFF

President Bush yesterday nominated Gen. Peter Pace, the son of an Italian immigrant, to be chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the nation's top military post.

Pace, a 1967 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis and commander of a rifle platoon during the Vietnam War, would be the first Marine to be chairman should he be confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

Bush called the 59-year-old "the story of the American dream."

Guiding the armed forces into the 21st century, Pace would inherit a military challenged by a global war on terrorism.

Military branches are struggling to recruit new troops even as forces are stretched thin in Afghanistan and with the struggle against insurgents in Iraq. There also is talk of repositioning overseas forces and reducing their numbers to build a new, more flexible military that conforms to the vision of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.

"If I had to characterize what his tenure will probably entail, it is all these changes we now face," said Anthony C. Zinni, a retired four-star Marine general and former commander of Central Command. "His chairmanship will be marked by how he and the military adapts in all those areas."

At a White House ceremony yesterday, Bush said he was nominating Navy Adm. Edmund Giambastiani Jr. to replace Pace as vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs.

Pace is expected to win Senate confirmation easily. At the White House ceremony, Pace said he was ready to forge ahead.

"It's humbling because I know the challenges ahead are formidable," he told reporters. "But I have great faith in our ability to meet those challenges, for both personal and professional reasons."

Tom Wilkerson, a retired two-star major general in the Marines, said that naming a Marine to the top military post demonstrates the administrations desire for a different military.

"That is a powerful statement," Wilkerson said. "Rumsfeld has shaken up conventional wisdom with his appointments, so this is a continuation of that trend."

In many ways, Pace was a natural choice for the president and defense secretary.

Since on Oct. 1, 2001, Pace has quietly helped shape the Pentagon's role in the war on terrorism as vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs.

"I've come to rely on Peter Pace's wisdom, judgment and sense of humor," said Bush, pointing to Pace's tenure as the vice chairman. "We'll need his wisdom and determination as we continue to transform our armed forces so we can defeat today's enemies while preparing ourselves for military challenges we will face as this new century unfolds."

The Joint Chiefs chairman, who normally serves two, two-year terms, is the senior military adviser to the president and the secretary of defense. But the general commands no troops and is not in the chain of command that links the president to the secretary of defense to commanders in the field.

Pace was born in Brooklyn, N.Y. and raised in Teaneck, N.J. At the Naval Academy, he ranked 428th out the graduating class of 890 in 1967.

In the Marine ranks, Pace stood out as a thoughtful guy, Wilkerson said. "He tells you what he thinks, and tells you that without seeming threatening. That's a very valuable trait in Washington."

After graduation, Pace was sent to Vietnam to command a rifle platoon and saw action in Hue City. In a speech last year, he described the experience: "I learned about being scared. I promise you there were times when I tried and wished I could climb up inside my helmet and have my mother come find me and take me home."

But a greater fear - of letting down the Marines under his command and those who served before him - kept him in the fight, he said.

After returning from Vietnam in 1969, he held a number of ceremonial and educational posts in the military. He was stationed in South Korea in the mid-1980s.

From December 1992 to February 1993, he was deputy commander of the Marine forces sent to Somalia during a famine crisis. He helped supervise the withdrawal of U.S. forces after a U.S. helicopter was shot down and a mob dragged dead soldiers through the streets in an incident that would later be depicted in the movie Black Hawk Down.

He was promoted to four-star general in 2000, when he took over the U.S. Southern Command, the military command that oversees operations in Latin America.

In his announcement yesterday, Bush drew attention to Pace's respect for his troops.

Under the glass on Pace's desk at the Pentagon, the president said, is a photo of the first Marine who died following Pace's orders: Lance Cpl. Guido Farinaro, killed in combat in Vietnam in 1968 when the general was a lieutenant.

"It tells you," Bush said, "something about Pete Pace's devotion to his troops."

Wire services contributed to this article

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